Ugh, I've had a horrible time writing lately! Thanks for all your reviews, guys!
Salvage Base, Valkyrie
The dark one shall do. His sword arm is strong enough, and his mind is free. We will accept him. He is one of us. He will help us.
"She's special, isn't she?" came Ji'e'toh's voice, still flecked with pain. To be truthful, Danial felt for him. That knee to the crotch had to have killed. The marine blinked and lifted his head, looking across the cockpit at the protoss dark templar. He swallowed, and then nodded.
"Yeah. Valk says she's a ghost."
Ji'e'toh tilted his head to the side, unfamiliar with the word save where it applied to Terran Special Ops. "Ghost?"
"Yeah... but normally a ghost is the spirit of a dead person. And Sasha's alive and whatnot. So I'm not sure what she is..."
The dark templar blinked, and looked curiously at where Valk sat so silently, as if off in a different world. He wondered what she was thinking about, before looking back to Danial. "I know little of such things... But when I first saw her, I could tell she was unique. She has been touched by the endless void. Her aura is empty and cold, nothing but darkness."
Danial grimaced, not exactly liking this description of Sasha, but finding it suiting nonetheless. Still, there had to a brighter side to her, right? Here she was, playing innocently in his lap. Her eyes might have been unnaturally dark, and her skin a ghastly pale, but she was still a little girl. That had to count for something.
He twiddled her little toes, and her face brightened a little. She kicked lightly, almost playfully at his palms. Ji'e'toh watched all this quietly, intrigued by the marine's strange behavior.
"Maybe," Danial said slowly, begrudgingly accepting the dark templar's assent of Sasha's 'aura'. "But she's just a kid."
The dark templar smiled and leaned back in his seat, covering himself up with his cape again."Your kid?" he asked innocently.
"Yeah, my...uh-what?" Danial blinked, looking bewildered at the dark templar.
"Hmm? Oh, nothing." Ji'e'toh was gingerly crossing his legs, wincing slightly at every movement. This was all very fascinating to Danial, who was bewildered by the tactical maneuvering required for protoss leg-crossing. He blinked at the alien a moment, and then shrugged. Sasha appeared to be tiring, as she curled up against him and blinked heavily, her eyelids low. After a moment, her zerg mouth formed and her fangs closed gently around one of his fingers. The gesture was so mammalian, so childish, that Danial could not hope to misinterpret it as anything other than a variant of thumb-sucking. He smiled brightly, and kissed her temple. If he'd known a single lullaby, he probably would have sung it for her. Her eyes closed fully, and she appeared to drift off to sleep.
Ji'e'toh smiled inwardly, and then closed his eyes to meditate.
Danial shifted slightly, and glanced as Valk. "Um, I sort of missed the tail end of the conversation... Why didn't you report the protoss?" he asked curiously.
Valk was quiet a long moment, and initially he thought he'd not receive an answer.
"Bree likes him," she answered. "Good enough for me."
Danial blinked. "What? Really?"
"Da. Bree iz annoying vhen upset. You've heard her vhine."
Danial figured there had to be more to it than this, but he did not press the issue. Personally, he was sort of glad at the decision. Ji'e'toh seemed decent enough, and killing him was irreversible. He'd fallen out of his rage just because of a good kick to the groin, and that had humanized him in the marine's eyes.
Eh, oh well. He kicked back and waited for that pizza.
Unknown Location, Unknown Time, Zerg Hive
He vomited up blood. If his mind had been clear, he would have been disgusted by his ability to vomit. The violet liquid oozed down his chin, dripped, fell, mixed with zerg blood and organs below. The chrysalis was closing around him. He had lasted far longer than the week Duran had given him.
It did not matter. It would be over soon.
He fought anyway.
"Kerrigan has already left the planet."
His head jerked, flickering white eyes staring blindly at the wall above him. Someone had spoken. Someone other than Kerrigan, other than the seething hives of voices. He wished he could reach out towards that voice- could speak to it, could find out who and what it was, but he was caged within the confines of his dying mind. It was a miracle that he recognized the presence of a voice at all.
"Do you want to be free, warrior? Do you want to be reunited with the Khala?"
A mental presence oozed into his skull, as Kerrigan's had so many times before. He roared, tossing violently, unwilling to submit, unwilling to give in to anything, any voice, any damnation, unwilling to-
The other mind wrapped around his like a shield, cutting off the voice of the Swarm. His eyes opened to their fullest extent and he inhaled sharply, overwhelmed by the sudden silence. His body convulsed once, then again.
"Keep fighting, warrior. Hide me."
He grasped at the mind psionically. It was within his small domain, where his mental abilities still functioned. Even so, his brain was so ravaged he could scarcely think, much less examine his savior. His eyes flickered orange momentarily and he shrieked, tearing at the ropes and folds of flesh around him, fighting with his new talons and his sharp teeth.
"Good. Keep fighting little blackbird. I will save you."
The soft chrysalis sealed around him, but still he fought, even as the tissue bound him like a straight jacket. He fought. Even as the drugs shut his eyes, forced his body to sleep, he fought. He was not conscious, but neither was he dormant. He would not fall. He would not give in. His white eyes flickered madly beneath closed eyelids, occasionally turning orange.
Valkyrie Frigate, Salvage Base, Aiur
We hear a voice calling in the silence of the void. It is crying through time, and only demons listen. They shall burn for their crimes. They will not predict us; we are invisible We are death incarnate.
Sasha's black eyes snapped open and she sat up quickly. The message was old, but still clear. Danial paused mid-pizza and looked down at her, alarm spreading over his face. "Sasha?" he asked quickly, drawing her up close to his face and rubbing her back soothingly. "Sasha? Are you alright?"
She looked at him a long moment.
Then she crawled out of his lap and, under his close supervision, walked into Valk's cockpit and headed for her navigation screen. After a couple moments, the whole group (including Ji'e'toh, who was wincing and still icing his privates) was gathered around the cockpit, looking at an image of a barren planet just a short distance from the Korhal system. An unclaimed planet- a useless planet, mineral poor and with too small an atmosphere for supporting terrestrial life. Sasha pointed to the image, and looked up at Valk, her black eyes vacant.
Valk grimaced. So much for scavenging.
"She vants us to go to zhis planet?"
Danial nodded. "That's what it looks like," he said, touching the navigation screen and zooming away from the planet. Sasha immediately tapped it, zooming back in again. "Yup."
"Hey, it looks like its out of Dominion territory, Valk," Bree observed. "We could get there, it wouldn't be much trouble. Be uncomfortably close to Korhal but... well... living in the same sector as Arcturus Mengsk is normally uncomfortable."
Valk snorted. She had considered ignoring the ghost child's requests, but she had seen firsthand what Sasha was capable of. All Valk had to do was think back to that primordial blue ooze in the downed protoss gateway, or the soulless husks tossed about it's hallways. She sighed.
"Fine. Fine. Everybody pack up. Ve're going- After ve fetch another crystal shipment to pay for zhis." She looked at Sasha. The ghost didn't seem to have any complaints over the delay.
"Great! I'll bring my ship!"
Valk blinked. She lifted her head and eyed Ji'e'toh, who was smiling mentally. "Vhat makes you zhink zhat you are coming?" she asked him.
"Well you said 'everybody.' I am part of 'everybody,' am I not? Or has even that right been stripped from me?"
"And yet, human, you wish to keep an eye on me. You want to make sure that I am apart from the Swarm. The easiest way for you to do that is if I remain with you."
Valk scowled. "Vhy do you vant to come vith us?"
"I am intrigued by this ghost-child, this Sasha."
Valk scowled even more. "Fine. Get your damn ship."
Ji'e'toh smiled more. "As you wish. Erm... But can I...?"
"Yes, sure, ice your vitals for a bit longer, be my guest," she grumbled. "Oh, yes, crack team zhis is. A hyperactive amazonian mechanic who gets in fist fight vith alien, a clueless marine who hasn't any idea vhere he is at any given point in time, a malicious alien ghost child, and now a crazy, drunk, infested protoss. Glorious." She threw her hands in the air and started muttering in irritated Russian.
For the first time since the human science facility, Ji'e'toh had the oddest notion that he belonged. He decided to pursue it. "You have forgotten our valiant, albeit legless leader. And I'm not infested."
She snarled at the absurdity of it all.
Protoss Ruin, Aiur
Bree whistled merrily to herself as she ferried crystal back and forward. Danial stood nearby with Sasha perched on his shoulder pauldron. She seemed quite taken by the surrounding flora.
Ji'e'toh was also protecting their little salvage site by scouting out the perimeter and watching Danial's back. The first time the dark templar cloaked, Danial had nearly fallen over in surprise. He hadn't known protoss could do that.
"So, what is little Sasha wearing, exactly?" he inquired.
Danial blinked. "It's a dress? Haven't you ever heard of a dress before?"
"Protoss wear robes. Are the two similar?"
"Yeah. A dress is generally supposed to be... um... pretty though. And normally only worn by women."
"Ah. Well. Hers is lovely?" he hazarded, wanting to compliment but uncertain as to how to do so.
"Well yeah. A little morbid though. Normally you'd only see a kid dressed like this when she was going to a funeral. But she liked it, so I bought it for her."
"I see. Humans are such strange creatures. Dresses. Hmm."
Danial lifted a brow. "Says the guy wearing a loincloth."
"What? Well I suppose its nothing like what you humans wear. But it does make for a pleasant breeze..."
Danial's face screwed up in horror. "Too much information!"
The protoss laughed. Bree rolled her eyes where she was salvaging crystal.
"So, Ji'e'toh!" she called. "You told us your arm was screwed up by scientists. What exactly is your story?"
The protoss reappeared and pondered the question for awhile. Even as he did so, he seemed to be keeping a better eye on their surroundings than Danial was. The marine blushed slightly and went back to surveying the nearby trees.
"I don't know. I have few memories of the time before my imprisonment," the protoss murmured sadly. "I remember very clearly waking up in a human lab, wired to their machines. How or why I ended up in their clutches, I do not know. I am eternally ashamed for it. My people do not allow themselves to be captured." He walked over to examine several rustling bushes, only to find a small animal responsible for the disturbance.
"How long ago was that?"
"A year ago"
"That's all?" she asked, surprised. "That's all you remember?"
"I remember bits and pieces of the past- enough to know I was normal once. I was a dark templar under the Prelate's, Zeratul's, command. I remember killing cerebrates, and I remember being on Aiur again.. I... I remember Aiur falling, and I remember the great protoss hero, Tassadar. Then: nothing."
Danial looked at him sympathetically "That sucks."
Bree grunted. "Wiping the minds of people... human scientists seem to like doing that for some reason. You're lucky you can remember anything."
Ji'e'toh nodded. "I am protoss, after all. We are a tad hardier than the average human. But thank you for your sympathy. And what of you two? What are your 'stories'?"
Bree grinned, and it seemed to Danial (who had gotten distracted from his duty again) that she knew something of some significance. "Well, you're a protoss," she said slowly, with a big wink. "Can't you just read my mind?"
"I like conversation, to be honest... But... I'd been meaning to ask you about that. Why can't I read your mind? Why can't I sense your presence?"
Bree giggled. "Because! I'm brain dead."
Ji'e'toh shot her a puzzled look. At least, Danial assumed it was puzzled... Protoss facial features were a little hard to read. As for himself, the marine grinned "Aw come on, Bree, you're a little empty headed, but you're not all that bad!"
The mechanic laughed again, hauling off some more crystal "No, really, really!" she said. "I've been tested to see if I'm psionic. Once there was this ghost who couldn't read my mind, so they tried to induct me into the ghost program and everything! But guess what? When they tested me, I received a Psionic Index of zero!"
Danial blinked "Zero? What does that mean?"
"It means," said Valk's thick voice, from the comfort of her pilot's seat, "zhat she has no psionic activity. None. All living zhings should have at least a vone or two. Great, powerful humans may have all zhe vay up to a ten. But zero? Bree might as vell have been a rock for all zhe psionic potential she evidences. Nothing goes in, and nothing comes out. It is an unexplained phenomenon."
Ji'e'toh tilted his head to the side, pondering over this information. "So, you were tested, and received, according to this 'index', a score of zero. What happened then?"
Bree giggled. "Then the local ghost program division tried to dissect my brain so they could study it and make uber ghost-resistant warriors, BWAHAHAHAHA! I think they were trying to claim all the credit for my discovery, or they would have sent me to Tarsonis."
Danial blinked. "What stopped them? From dissecting your brain and creating the uber ghost-resistant warriors, that is."
"Huh? Oh." Bree set the final batch of crystal down. "Well, I lived on Mar Sara. You know, the planet that got infested by zerg, and then nice old mister Tassadar blew it up? That one. I was left behind and got out of there with The Korhal Rebellion- through Raynor."
The dark templar blinked. " 'Mister' Tassadar?"
"Yup! I gave him a big-ole hug when I found out."
Ji'e'toh tried to imagine Bree giving the protoss messiah a hug. Strangely, it wasn't that hard to visualize. Of course, Tassadar hadn't been so highly thought of at the time, but still. "How did you meet him?"
"Defected from Korhal. I stuck with Jimmy-Boy, so I got to meet all kinds of fun protoss! It was like going to a celebrity convention! Well, before any of the people were celebrities yet..."
Ji'e'toh nodded, digesting this knowledge. After a moment, he looked at Danial. "May I inquire as to your story?" he asked politely.
Bree was still wondering to herself in the background: "Maybe it was more like going to high school with a celebrity... Hmm"
Danial lifted a brown and then shrugged. "Eh, I don't have much of a story," the marine answered. Now that he didn't have to pay attention to anyone else, he could keep an eye on the foliage again. "I was with the UED- I'm from Earth. My parents were boring normal people. I joined the military to make some money. Then they sent us out here, and things got a little crazy. I ended up marooned on this miserable planet."
Ji'e'toh blinked. "Why did this 'UED' come here?"
"It had to do with their Overmind project. After the old Overmind died, some zerg got together and decided to make a new one. At least, that's the dumbed down version we got. Anyhow, we were part of that... somehow."
"Pardon, part of what? What was this 'Overmind project' you speak of?"
"Well, the UED tried to enslave the new Overmind, so it could control the zerg. And I think it was working, up until Kerrigan and some other factions stormed in to kill it. Can't really blame them. That's just trading a zerg-controlled Overmind for a human-controlled Overmind, and frankly the second one scares me more."
Ji'e'toh looked horrified by this revelation, but was thankful that the second Overmind had already been defeated. "Was this second Overmind on Aiur as well, then?"
"No, That's the funny part. I don't really know what we were doing here, or how we were part of the plan. As far as I can tell, the new Overmind was on Char, and they landed us on Aiur. I used to think we came here because there was a lot of wild zerg... so we figured the Overmind would be able to control the zerg here first." The marine shifted slightly. "But Valk, and Bree, and I found... We found Sasha here, in a UED science vessel, filled with other half-formed hybrids. I think a lot of crazy shit was going on in the background, stuff we marines weren't told about."
The little girl in question was sitting quietly in the arm of Danial's power suit. She was watching the salvage operation with her dark eyes, silent and passive.
"I see," the protoss murmured. He cloaked and made another round of the area, before coming back to Danial with a new question. "Have you told anyone about your discovery of these hybrids? About Sasha?"
Danial blinked and then shook his head. "No. I don't think we can. They'd take Sasha away, and they'd probably try and kill her. I was stupid just for carrying her around the Salvage Base. And the science vessel where we found here exploded. If we don't show them Sasha, then we have no proof."
The dark templar nodded sadly. "Just as I cannot warn them about what happened to myself. I understand. Occasionally I feel that I am choosing the wrong path, however. These events seem dire. Someone should be looking in to them. Is it right for me to withhold such vital information from my people? My life might be sacrificed to save theirs."
Danial shifted. After a long moment, he spoke again. "It's not them killing Sasha I'm worried about. It's what Sasha will do to them if they try."
Ji'e'toh blinked and looked at him curiously.
"The real story about how we found Sasha is filled with supernatural crap," The marine began, taking in a slow breath. "Walls were bleeding, spirits were dancing around laughing, blood ghosts were lying around, loads of impossible shit was going on..."
He told the whole story, from start to finish. Ji'e'toh listened with a perplexed expression. Danial found it difficult to tell whether he believed the tale or not. He need not have worried; the protoss was watching these supernatural events play out again in the forefront of Danial's mind, unwinding like a long and gory horror movie. Try as he might, the protoss could think up no logical explanation for many of the events the marine had witnessed.
Ji'e'toh had guessed that Sasha was special. It seemed this was the understatement of his life.